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2012 | 93 min | PG-13 | 1.85:1



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Theatrical release date

 02 November, 2012

Country of origin

 United States

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Screenshots from Vamps Blu-ray

Vamps Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, November 1, 2012

“Vamps” certainly earns points for trying. It’s encouraging to see writer/director Amy Heckerling this creatively animated again, after her last two features, 2000’s “Loser” and 2007’s “I Could Never Be Your Woman” were colossal failures, suggesting an onset of lethargy for a filmmaker who made her name with such spunky hits as “Clueless,” “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” and “Look Who’s Talking.” Heckerling goes for broke with “Vamps,” blending an anti-technology rant with a romantic comedy about monsters, tossing in some flashes of horror and reverence for classic cinema for good measure. It’s all over the place and in dire need of an unbreakable funny bone, but I admire the movie’s pluck, finding “Vamps” always aiming to please despite some rather severe limitations in the screenwriting department.

Turned by her “stem,” vampire queen Ciccerus (an unleashed Sigourney Weaver), in 1841, Goody (Alicia Silverstone) has spent much of her life watching as the world develops around her, losing its vital essence to the drag of technology. Needing a friend, Goody picks up transformed pal Stacy (Krysten Ritter) in the 1990s, with the two forming a tight bond as they navigate life as vampires, choosing to feed on the blood of rats instead of humans. Holding to routine of nightlife and girlfriend chatter, Stacy finds herself distracted by Joey Van Helsing (Dan Stevens), falling in love with the college student while his father, Dr. Van Helsing (Wallace Shawn), has his suspicions about the undead woman. For Goody, a dilemma arrives when she encounters old boyfriend Danny (a surprisingly effective Richard Lewis), which urges her to reconnect to the years she’s left behind. While the government impedes on the daytime rights of New York City’s vampire population (including Malcolm McDowell and Justin Kirk), Goody finds herself newly motivated to break Ciccerus’s control, hoping to preserve Stacy’s bright future in the process.

“Vamps” feels like Heckerling purging an enormous amount of pet peeves and half-realized ideas, funneling them into a trendy vampire setting. It’s not a horror film, but there’s some bite to the proceedings, with a minor amount of bloodshed and a few ghoulish turns. The picture is primarily bubble gun, with the helmer returning to her “Clueless” sugar high by transforming celebrated elements of fright into sassy interplay between Goody and Stacy, two gal pals keeping to the fun of city nightlife before returning to their coffins in the morning. Heckerling’s screenplay is startlingly complicated for such a frothy endeavor, laboring to build its own universe of “stems” and “dayplayers” (the non-bloodsuckers of the world), while tracing Goody’s wistfulness for the NYC of yore, before it became an overcrowded mess of idiots. “Vamps” is great with introductions, happily tossing around topics for derision, sight gags, and subplots, but little of the movie comes together as elegantly as the director imagines, feeling erratic and congested at times.

Perhaps heaviest on Heckerling’s mind is our society’s fixation on screens. “Vamps” contains a sea of extras and main players sucked into their phones and tablets, creating a pointed commentary on distractions and the lost art of intimacy, while aged vampire Goody wonders what happened to the simple society she once understood. It’s a point Heckerling hammers home repeatedly, almost stopping the picture to make sure the back row understands her intentions. Admittedly, it’s an interesting satiric jab, with an amusing scene highlighting Joey and Stacy as the only two students paying attention to “Un Chien Andalou” in their film theory class, while everyone else is buried in their cheap technology. Heckerling has a Big Idea here, but it’s competing for screen time with several other tangents, blurring the focus of the feature.

It’s actually quite nice to see Silverstone this engaged again on the screen, channeling her beaming work as Cher in “Clueless” to keep Goody an approachable character, despite her age and general displeasure with the world. It’s an energetic performance, matched well by the rest of the cast, including Shawn as a fearless vampire hunter posing as a Time Warner cable guy to gain access to apartments. And for those “Ridgemont High” fans who’ve always wanted to know whatever became of the Pizza Guy, actor Taylor Negron reprises the role for “Vamps,” receiving a little more than the average tip after delivering a pie to Ciccerus. Brian Backer, who played Mark “Rat” Ratner, also cameos as a hapless victim.

“Vamps” is bold, ambitious, but it’s rarely funny. Heckerling works to squeeze out a few laughs along the way, but the punchlines are soggy and the situations a little too cartoonish at times, resembling a sketch comedy show about vampires. Still, it’s satisfying to watch the director leap out of the professional coma she’s been in for the last 12 years, feeling anxious to execute an idea that seems like it’s been developing for quite some time. It’s not a particularly satisfying film, but “Vamps” has a healthy amount of personality.

Starring: Alicia Silverstone, Krysten Ritter, Dan Stevens, Richard Lewis, Sigourney Weaver, Wallace Shawn
Director: Amy Heckerling

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